09
Dante Alighieri - La Divina Commedia - Inferno
Courtney Langdon - The Divine Comedy

The Gate of the City of Dis
The Sixth Circle. Heresy

The color cowardice brought out on me,
who saw my Leader coming back, the sooner
repressed in him his unaccustomed hue.
He stopped attentive like a man who listens;
because his eyesight could not lead him far
through the dark air, and through the heavy fog.
“Yet we must win the battle,” he began,
“unless . . . One such did offer us herself!
Oh, how I long for some one to arrive!”

I well perceived how, when he overlaid
what he began to say by what came after,
that these were words that differed from the first.
But none the less his language gave me fear,
because I lent to his unfinished phrase
a meaning worse, perhaps, than he intended.

“Into this bottom of the dismal shell
doth any of that first grade e'er descend,
whose only penalty is hope cut off?”

I asked this question. He replied to me:
“It seldom comes to pass that one of us
performs the journey whereupon I go.

'T is true that I was conjured once before
down here by magic of that wild Eržchtho,
who used to call shades back into their bodies.
My flesh had hardly been made bare of me,
when me she forced to enter yonder wall,
and thence withdraw a soul from Judas' ring.
That is the lowest and the darkest place,
and from the heaven that turns all things most distant;
well do I know the road; so be at rest!
This marsh, from which the mighty stench exhales,
girdles the woeful city round about,
which without wrath we cannot enter now.”

And more he said, but I recall it not,
because mine eye had made me wholly heed
the glowing summit of the lofty tower,
where three infernal Furies stained with blood
had suddenly uprisen all at once,
having the members and the mien of women,
and girt with water-snakes of brightest green;
for hair they had small serpents and horned snakes,
wherewith their frightful temples were entwined.

And he, who well the handmaids of the Queen
of everlasting lamentation knew,
said unto me: “Behold the fierce Eržnyes!
This is Megaera here upon the left;
Alecto, she who weepeth on the right;
TisžphonŽ's between.” Thereat he ceased.

Each with her nails was tearing at her breast;
they smote them with their hands, and cried so loud,
that to the Poet I drew close in dread.
“Now let Medusa come! We 'll turn him thus
to stone!” they all cried out, as down they looked;
“wrong were we not to punish Theseus' raid.”

“Turn back, and close thine eyes, for should the Gorgon
reveal itself, and thou behold the face,
there 'd be no more returning up above.”
The Teacher thus: and turning me himself,
on my hands he did not so far rely,
as not to close mine eyes with his as well.

O ye in whom intelligence is sound,
heed carefully the teaching which lies hidden
beneath the veil of my mysterious lines!

There now was coming o'er the turbid waves
the uproar of a dread-inspiring sound,
because of which both shores were all aquake,
a noise like nothing other than a wind,
impetuous through opposing heats, which smites
a forest, and without the least restraint
shatters, lays low, and carries off its boughs;
dust-laden it goes proudly on its way,
and makes wild animals and shepherds flee.

He freed mine eyes, and said: “Direct thou now
thy keenest vision o'er that ancient scum,
to where that reeking smoke is most intense.”

As frogs before the hostile water-snake
scatter in all directions through the water,
till each is squatting huddled on the shore;
more than a thousand ruined souls I saw,
who thus from one were fleeing, who on foot,
but with dry feet, was passing over Styx.
That dense air he kept moving from his face
by often passing his left hand before him,
and only with that trouble weary seemed.
I well perceived he was a Messenger
from Heaven, and to my Teacher turned; with signs
he warned me to keep still, and bow before him.
Ah, how disdainful did he seem to me!
He reached the gate, and with a little wand
he opened it, for hindrance had he none.

“O people thrust from Heaven and held in scorn,”
upon the horrid threshold he began,
“whence dwells in you this overweening pride?
Why is it that ye kick against the Will,
from which its end can never be cut off,
and which hath more than once increased your pain?
Of what avail to butt against the Fates?
Your Cerberus, if ye remember well,
still sports for this a hairless chin and neck.”

He then returned along the filthy road,
nor did he say a word to us; but looked
like one whom other cares constrain and gnaw,

than that of him who in his presence is;
then we with full assurance toward the town,
after those holy words, addressed our steps.

We entered it without the least contention;
and I, who longed to look about and see
the state of those whom such a fortress holds,
when I was in it, cast mine eyes around,
and see on every side an ample plain,
with anguish and with awful torture filled.

Even as at Arles, where marshy turns the Rhone,
or as at Pola near Quarnaro's gulf,
which bounds Italia, and her border bathes,
the sepulchres make all the ground uneven;
so likewise did they here on every side,
save that their nature was more bitter here;
for flames were spread about within the tombs,
whereby they glowed with such intensity,
that no art needeth greater heat for iron.
The lids of all of them were raised, and wails
so woeful issued thence, that of a truth
they seemed the wails of wretched, tortured men.

“Teacher, what sort of people are those there,”
said I, “who, buried in those arc-like tombs,
make themselves heard by means of woeful sighs?”

“Arch-heretics are with their followers here”
said he, “of every sect, and far more laden
than thou believest are the sepulchers.

Here like with like is buried, and more hot
and less so are the monuments.” Thereat,
when he had turned him to the right, we passed
between the woes and lofty bastioned walls.


8. Beatrice, Man's spiritual nature, of which his Reason is the prime minister.
18. A spirit from Limbo; a "covert" way of asking whether Virgil knew his way.
23. Compare with this classical legend of the Thessalian sorceress, Erichtho, that of the biblical witch of Endor, who called up the soul of Samuel.
27. Giudecca, the central ring of Cocytus, the Circle of Traitors.
37. The Furies of Remorse and Disbelief - another instance of classic mythology put at the service of Christian philosophy.
43. Proserpine, the wife of Pluto, the King of the classic Hades.
52. The Gorgon's head, symbolizing the petrifying result of Despair, or of utter disbelief in a spiritual world, the fundamental heresy punished inside.
54. Theseus' attempt to rescue Proserpine.
58. Reason's duty to protect Man from despair and disbelief.
61. Dante's great appeal to the appreciative imagination of his readers.
64. A poetic picture of the advent of spiritual Intuition to the rescue of Reason at the end of its resources.
76. [[xxxiv]] Dante frequently uses frogs for the purposes of his grim humor.
82. The fog of spiritual ignorance and blindness.
98. The three-headed dog, Cerberus, tried to interfere with Hercules' rescue of Theseus from Hades.
105. The Angel's words were "holy" because expressing righteous indignation.
112. Roman graves at Arles long thought to be those of Christians fallen in battle with Saracens.
113. The popular Dante text which claims Istria for Italy.
127. Heretics seen in tombs, because disbelief in the Immortality of the Soul, the fundamental heresy, implies the belief that the end of Man's life is the grave.
130. Dante's Hell being a picture of perfect Justice, different grades of intensity are implied in the punishment of individual souls guilty of the same kind of sin. In this picture of the worst form of heresy as intellectual self-entombment, equity is provided for by the graded heat of the tombs.

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